Monday, March 09, 2009

To Henry

I'm a strong proponent of the maxim, "Never meet your heroes". It's happened to me twice and it was a bitter experience each time. Bukowski died a couple years after I discovered him. So I was never in danger of breaking the rule with him. It's a good thing too, because by all accounts he was a truly horrible person. It amazes me that a man who understood so much could be such a wife-beating asshole. Regardless of the man, his work taught a teenage me a thousand lessons that I still hold to my heart.

So, in a tradition that started a long time ago, I went to the riverside with a flask of whisky (any intoxicant is acceptable), a good friend who has the understanding and a fist full of Bukowski poems (Kerouac is acceptable as well as his birth date is the 12th of March). We sat at the Southbank and we talked of writing, of life and eulogized our heroes - long may we never meet. Upon the conclusion of our meeting, I read this poem1 over the Thames as group of waddling and dumb-struck tourists listened and, as we left, I passed the teenagers watching the skaters zip past the graffitied cement. I recognised one of them. It was me over a decade ago.
"Do you know who Bukowski is?" I asked.
"No," he said.
I handed him the poem and left, hoping, like in the parable of the sower, the message had found fertile ground.

Charles Bukowski (August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) - The History Of One Tough Motherfucker1

he came to the door one night wet thin beaten and
a white cross-eyed tailless cat
I took him in and fed him and he stayed
grew to trust me until a friend drove up the driveway
and ran him over
I took what was left to a vet who said,"not much
chance...give him these pills...his backbone
is crushed, but is was crushed before and somehow
mended, if he lives he'll never walk, look at
these x-rays, he's been shot, look here, the pellets
are still there...also, he once had a tail, somebody
cut it off..."
I took the cat back, it was a hot summer, one of the
hottest in decades, I put him on the bathroom
floor, gave him water and pills, he wouldn't eat, he
wouldn't touch the water, I dipped my finger into it
and wet his mouth and I talked to him, I didn't go any-
where, I put in a lot of bathroom time and talked to
him and gently touched him and he looked back at
me with those pale blue crossed eyes and as the days went
by he made his first move
dragging himself forward by his front legs
(the rear ones wouldn't work)
he made it to the litter box
crawled over and in,
it was like the trumpet of possible victory
blowing in that bathroom and into the city, I
related to that cat-I'd had it bad, not that
bad but bad enough
one morning he got up, stood up, fell back down and
just looked at me.
"you can make it," I said to him.
he kept trying, getting up falling down, finally
he walked a few steps, he was like a drunk, the
rear legs just didn't want to do it and he fell again, rested,
then got up.
you know the rest: now he's better than ever, cross-eyed
almost toothless, but the grace is back, and that look in
his eyes never left...
and now sometimes I'm interviewed, they want to hear about
life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed,
shot, runover de-tailed cat and I say,"look, look
at this!"
but they don't understand, they say something like,"you
say you've been influenced by Celine?"
"no," I hold the cat up,"by what happens, by
things like this, by this, by this!"
I shake the cat, hold him up in
the smoky and drunken light, he's relaxed he knows...
it's then that the interviews end
although I am proud sometimes when I see the pictures
later and there I am and there is the cat and we are photo-
graphed together.
he too knows it's bullshit but that somehow it all helps.

1 comment:

  1. Borges has a great story about himself as an old man meeting his younger self on a park-bench at Oxford, and trying his best to impart to his younger self his life's lessons. But, of course, his younger self feels he has no need of any such lessons, and is certainly not interested in hearing them from some old person.